Today’s culture of constant self-improvement demands that we optimize everything in our lives. We’re no longer allowed to veg out on the sofa after work. Instead, we must make the most of every moment to carve ourselves into the perfect ideals we’re destined to become.
Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? Try though we might, humans can’t maintain peak energy levels from sunup to sundown. We need time to recharge so when we do have the energy to invest in our hobbies, we can enjoy them to the fullest.
You’re a human being, and your job is to give yourself the tools and time you need to become the version of yourself you enjoy the most — not the version the internet says you should be.
Before you start giving your passion projects the attention they deserve, though, you must recognize that you can’t stay “on” all the time. You only have so much of yourself to give, and if you push that limit, you’ll eventually burn out on the pursuits that used to bring you joy. Treat yourself with kindness, then use that extra energy to pursue your favorite pastimes with renewed vigor.
This four-step guide explores what you need to know about pursuing your passion without turning your hobby into a second job.
1. Join communities that inspire you.
Even solo passions create opportunities to engage with other passionate people. Instead of locking yourself away, mingle with others who enjoy the same things you do. If you don’t love coffee shops and bars, you can find plenty of support on the internet, too.
Online communities offer limitless opportunities for hobbyists to find like-minded friends. Photography platform ViewBug, for instance, lets photographers post photos, talk to other shutterbugs, and participate in contests. Outdoor enthusiasts can find other nature lovers through REI’s Conversations. If you’re not sure where to start, look on sites like Facebook or Reddit to find groups dedicated to your hobby. If you enjoy meeting in person, check out Meetup or your local government’s website to find groups in your area.
2. Build on what you have.
You don’t have to be a master artist or a marathon runner to enjoy drawing or running. To get more involved with your hobby, build on what you have. You may be surprised to discover how quickly you can grow.
Say you want to learn a new language. Instead of lamenting how far behind you are, download Duolingo or Babbel and take a placement test. You may have retained more of that high school French than you realized. Once you find your footing, you can use that information to identify where you’d like to improve and start making progress. Remember to go easy on yourself, though — it’s about living a better life, not adding another stressor to the pile.
3. Set a goal — and keep it to yourself.
Some people swear by accountability in numbers, but you may do better by keeping your goals secret. Instead of telling everyone you want to run the Chicago Marathon or get a poem accepted by a literary magazine, let them see your efforts in a general way while you reserve the specifics.
Even if you don’t talk about your goals with others, you should still find ways to track and incentivize your progress. Write down your plan in a journal, and add a checkmark for every new piece you create or workout you finish. Use an app like Strides to keep records. When you complete your mission, you can drop the act and celebrate as loudly as you want.
4. Give yourself permission to step back.
No matter how committed you are to your goal or how perfect your plan is, life can always throw you for a loop. You could hurt your shoulder and find yourself unable to swim a triathlon. A big bill could prevent you from buying the new lens you need for your camera. You may simply lose inspiration and struggle to write, even when you find the time.
When life gets you down, don’t beat yourself up. All the progress you made before your setback still counts. Take the time you need to heal or reflect on your next steps, then get back on the horse when the moment is right. Keep yourself occupied in the meantime by filling your time with another hobby. Who knows? Something you begin doing as a time filler could eventually become your new favorite hobby.
Your passions should make you feel passionate, not pitiful. The next time you find yourself wondering where all the fun went, take a breath and give yourself a break. You’ll get there on your own schedule, and when it comes to your life, your time is the only time that matters.